In the course of their everyday work, a teacher takes on many roles – teacher, guide, role-model, learner, authority figure, confidante, disciplinarian, communicator, and the list goes on. Teaching is so much more than “chalk and talk”, and our students are not the “empty vessels” of Charles Dickens’ Hard Times.
As a relief teacher, I have worked with and observed the practice of experienced classroom managers, and realised that their classes have several important features in common. They are characterised by positive, open relationships (with students, parents, and colleagues), mutual respect, and a shared responsibility for the learning process. These are the “3 R’s of an Effective Learning Environment”.
The Teacher’s Attitude is Key
Student misbehaviour, in most cases, is not a subversive challenge to the teacher’s authority. Yes, some students can be extremely frustrating, distant and downright irritating, but they are children, and should be treated as such. Their behaviour can be extremely challenging and disruptive, but it often purposeful and influenced by their social environment.
Research shows that effective classroom managers treat student misbehaviour as a natural and normal part of schooling. They take proactive steps to prevent or reduce the severity of their students’ misbehaviour, seeking to minimise the disruption to the teaching & learning process.
As many experienced teachers have taught me, through their words and actions, the creation of a safe learning environment and the development of positive student-teacher relationships are key elements of effective management practice.
A focus on the students' needs
As human beings, we have three basic needs – the need for food, shelter, and safety. It is a symptom of modern society that a significant proportion of our students only feel safe at school. In some neighbourhoods, many students turn up to school hungry, having skipped breakfast. Therefore, teachers and schools play an important role in their students’ lives.
A safe classroom learning environment is created by the teacher, developed through their words, attitudes, actions, classroom management approach, and the kinds of relationships they develop with their students.
I have two fundamental beliefs:
- No student should fear their teacher.
- No student deserves to be intimidated, bullied, or provoked into violence by their classmates.
To feel safe, our students:
- Need clear guidelines or rules for appropriate behaviour. They need to own those rules, and understand the consequences they face if they choose not to abide by them.
- Need to be treated with respect; as individuals with diverse interests, skills, and talents.
- Need to feel like they belong, a sense of identity as part of a class, a school community
- Need a sense of purpose, and degree of shared responsibility for the learning process
Finally, EVERY student has the right to feel safe at school, especially those students who exhibit challenging/violent behaviours. Some of the best teachers I have ever worked with, including my own Year 1 teacher, strive to make this happen. This is a difficult, long-term process, and you will have your successes and failures. This is why I became a teacher.